The Thoreau Society, Inc. is an informal gathering
of students and followers of Henry David Thoreau.
Wendell Glick, Duluth, Minn., president; Mrs.
Charles MacPherson, Acton, Mass., vice-president;
and Walter Harding, State University, Geneseo, N.Y.
14454, secretary- treasurer. Annual membership
$3.00; life membership, $100.00. Address communi-
cations to the secretary
Feel free to reptint material herein (unless
otherwise specified) but please acknowledae the
Thoreau Society Bulletin as your source.
BULLETIN ONE HUNDRED FORTY FIVE US I S S N
THE INFLUENCE OF THOREAU ON THE AMERICAN NATURE
ESSAY (An address to the Thoreau Society 15 July
1978) by Paul 0. Williams
In spite of the title of this paper, it is not
really scholarly. The subject is far too broad for
coverage in the time of the traditional Thoreau
Society address. Rather than limiting my range to
a portion of Thoreau' s influence I could examine
in detail, I would like to take a sweeping view of
this neglected area of study. There is room here
for many investigations, and it is my hope that
this presentation may stimulate some of them.
I would like at the outset to make a distinction
between the broad and amorphous category of writing
we hear referred to often as "nature writing" and
the sub-category I will consider here as the Ameri-
can nature essay. I admit readily that the dis-
tinction may be somewhat artificial, but I feel it
is useful, and especially so in speaking of
Thoreau' s influence.
What I mean by the nature essay is non-fiction
which focuses not only on the facts of natural
history but makes inquiry into their feel, their
relationship to man and his interests, nature, and
being. It is always writing done with conscious
artistry, with a genuine literary knowledge and
quality. It has a philosophical dimension, but its
philosophy is of the fiterary kind, growing out of
observation and resting all its weight on real
perceptions. Loren Eiseley sees Thoreau in his
journals as "a man sorting, selecting, questioning
less nature than his own way into nature, to find
... 'a patent for himself.'"-'- That is the com-
bination. The nature essay is written by people
who feel that in the natural world there is, some-
how, a hieroglyph which, if they can just read it,
will turn out to be their own names.
Certainly Thoreau was such a person. The nature
essay is a place where natural history, philosophy,
and literature meet. Thoreau has a place in all
three disciplines. This lifts his work above much
nature writing. After all, one doesn't want merely
to read about someone else's day in the wild. We
all have our own days. But his illuminations
there, his response to those magnificent stimuli —
that is another thing altogether.
My stipulative definition leaves out a number of
categories of nature writing, even some in which
Thoreau has had a manifest or probable influence.
Nature fiction such as Ernest Thompson Seton's
animal biographies, or the recent studies of Sally
Carrigher, One Day at Teton Marsh , One Day at Bee-
tle Rock , or The Twilight Seas are another strain,
as are Robert Murphy's The Pond or The Stream .
Incidental accounts of someone's personal observa-
tions of nature, which do not take into account
the significance, the impression, the subjective
quality, other than sentiment, of what was observed,
do not to my sense fall into the category. Be-
havioral studies, such as Robert Ardrey's African
Genesis or The Territorial Imperative , have other
roots. Though they resemble the form I am dis-
cussing, they begin with a single thesis, of the
continuity of behavior among man, other primates,
and other animals, and develop their speculations
on that. This limits the free play of inquiry -one
finds in the essay. Natural history textbooks I
would not include either since their focus is on
fact rather than on the significance of fact. Nor
would I include environmental activitism. Such
texts direct themselves, ultimately, toward techni-
ques rather than essence, politics rather than
A lot remains, a very large literature of fine
books and shorter essays of a type Americans must
value, judging by their popularity. Such writincr_
may vary in nature and aim, but it still falls
within or borders on literature which may be des-
cribed by my definition above. What is important
for us here is that as far as I have been able to
tell, for all intents and purposes, Thoreau inven-
ted this sub-genre of nature writing.
Certainly there was much nature writing before
Thoreau, and he had his precendents in the poetry
of Wordsworth, the rich philosophical and religious
literature of New England, the botanizing habits
of his neighbors, the essay form so finely honed in
his time and region, and the work of Emerson.
Travel literature, of which the nineteenth century
produced so many fine examples, surely contributed
an element to Thoreau' s nature essay form. So did
the native wit of his culture, his compositional
instruction at Harvard, and his wide reading, both
ancient and modern.
Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selbourne
is sometimes cited as a precedent. It is indeed a
charming and informative book, and one can find in
it examples of the sort of probing beyond the fact
that is so habitual with Thoreau, but not that many.
Its investigations into natural history are conduc-
ted by a religiously comfortable country parson,
*TH0REAU SOCIETY WINTER MEETING *
* Don't forget that the Thoreau Society will *
*hold its first winter meeting in conjunction *
*with the annual meeting of the Modern Language*
*Association in New York City on December 27, *
*1978, at 9 p.m. in the Gibson A Suite of the *
♦Hotel Hilton. Raymond Gozzi will speak on *
*"Thoreau and I: A Personal Note" and Walter *
*Harding on "Thoreau and Eros." *
and do not contain the same hunger in ontological
search that one finds in Thoreau. Thoreau cites
White four times in the journals; each time his
interest is in the naturalist's observations.
William Gilpin's picturesque travel writing is
also cited as a source for Thoreau. Here, even in
Thoreau' s own opinion in the journals, Gilpin was
not writing what Thoreau was after. His journal
references to Gilpin, spanning the period of March
31, 1852 to November 8, 1858, show that Thoreau
read him extensively and with real interest. On
January 8, 1854, however, Thoreau objects to a
certain shallowness in Gilpin's concept of nature
in his "Essay on Picturesque Travel," concluding,
"The elegant Gilpin. I like his style and manners
better than anything he says." 7 This opinion seems
confirmed the next month, when he remarks, "Gilpin
talked as if there was some food for the soul in
mere physical light and shadow, as if, without the
suggestion of a moral, they could give a man plea-
sure or pain!"
Perhaps this last comment gives one of the bases
of Thoreau' s originality — his transcendentalism.
What he means by "the suggestion of a moral" is, of
course, to be very liberally viewed. Thoreau, as
we all know, wasn't pasting on moral tags, but he
was always vitally concerned with how people should
conduct their lives. This concern, as any reader
of the early journal knows, predated his deep in-
volvement in nature. It is this interest to which
he addresses himself persistently, by means of the
insights derived from his observations of things
In Walden is a mini-essay familiar to you all
which illustrates this method. Thoreau is descri-
bing the hares nibbling his potato peelings:
Near at hand they only excited my pity.
One evening one sat by my door two paces
from me, at first trembling with fear,
yet unwilling to move; a poor wee thing,
lean and bony, with ragced ears and
sharp nose, scant tail and slender paws.
It looked as if Nature no longer contained
the breed of nobler bloods, but stood on
her last toes. Its large eyes appeared
young and unhealthy, almost dropsical.
I took a step, and lo, away it scud with
an elastic spring over the snow crust,
straightening its body and its limbs
into graceful length, and soon put the
forest between me and itself, — the wild
free venison, asserting its vigor and
the dignity of Nature. Not without
reason was its slenderness. Such then
was its nature.
The moral comment, for such we may call it, is
clear here, though implied. It is perception be-
yond the surface, commentary on human values and
the vitality of the natural life. To this he adds
a prose-poem of lyric praise:
What is a country without rabbits and
partridges? They are among the most
simple and indigenous animal products;
ancient and venerable families known to
antiquity as to modern times; of the very
hue and substance of Nature, nearest
allied to leaves and to the ground, — and
to one another; it is either winged or it
is legged. It is hardly as if you had
seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a
partridge bursts away, only a natural
one, as much to be expected as rustl-
Who had expended such insight, or cherished this
subject with such precise language before Thoreau?
Only poets, probably, and then not in the ranked
and marshalled masses which constitute the bulk of
Thoreau 1 s fine nature writing. Here was a new
thing — a new literary sub-genre and a superior
writing standard against which all subsequent
writers in the form would have to measure them-
Surely it is significant that Thoreau came to the
nature essay form with a deep and broad literary
background. As you well know, the young Thoreau
was a bookish person. In the early journals, his
interminable lists of literary and historical
figures show the breadth of interest and keenness
of perception of one well educated in the liberal
arts before things natural really began to stir his
depths. Of course the interest was always there,
and the excursions of his boyhood simply matured
into a remarkable manhood, but his early accounts
of the wild tend to be generalized, aesthetic, and
literary. The later fusion of his literary back-
ground, philosophical depth, transcendental atti-
tude , and commitment to the natural world have
given us this new thing that has shaped the de-
velopment of an entire literature.
As we all know, it was not for some time that the
accomplishments of Thoreau as a nature essayist
were to be acknowledged. This enabled the first
serious subsequent writer in the form, John
Burroughs, to perceive Thoreau' s shortcomings some-
what more clearly than later writers have. Pro-
bably as well Burroughs did not perceive Thoreau 's
accomplishment as clearly as he might have .
But like Burroughs, many of the major writers in
the nature essay form, as I have described it, as
well as some minor contributors to it, are active
Thoreauvians — students of his work, commentators
on him, or at least acknowledgers that Thoreau is
a burden to some, an enduring rock in the stream
of time, which parts the waters, and which looks
to be there jutting up in the sun a long time.
For such the Thoreauvian influence is a challenge
But there are other aspects of this influence,
and to them I would like to devote the rest of this
this presentation. Thoreau has functioned as an
example, a dimension, an approach, a precedent, a
subject, a source, and an anthology. And, of
course , as a sacred cow.
In fact, Thoreau functioned in all those capaci-
ties but the last to John Burroughs. For example,
"Pepacton" recounts a boat trip Burroughs took down
the east branch of the Delaware Rive in emulation
of Thoreau' s A Week . Burroughs' repeated essays
on Thoreau gave us some of the most perceptive of
early commentary. Surely the most important of
these, "Henry D. Thoreau," first printed in the
Century Magazine of July, 1882, and later in
Indoor Studies , in 1889, is a rich and penetrating
appreciation. It is significant, I feel, that the
essay is more about Thoreau the man and Thoreau
the writer than about Thoreau the naturalist,
though the natural was Burroughs ' preeminent in-
terest. Burroughs undervalued Thoreau' s abilities
as a naturalist, writing, "He has added no new line
or touch to the portrait of bird or beast that I
can recall, — no important or significant fact to
their lives t" But he adds that this was not
what Thoreau was looking for. "His eye," writes
Burroughs, "was not penetrating and interpretive.
It was full of speculation; it was sophisticated
with literature, sophisticated with Concord,
sophisticated with himself. His mood was subjec-
tive rather than objective. He was more intent on
the natural history of his own thought than on
that of the bird." 13
For our purposes, one can only say that Burroughs
could not have written his 1882 essay without
having read Thoreau widely and deeply. The fact
that he himself is not more Thoreauvian, and per-
haps that his books now gather so much dust on the
shelves of second-hand stores, resulted from his
desire to be more of a naturalist and less of a
philosopher, a penetrator, a stylist. Often
Burroughs' idea of objectivity results in triviali-
ty, in the "I went here, then I went there, then I
saw that, and then I did this" tendency of many
nature writers, whose writing does not flower into
thought, or flash with wit, whose writing may
particularlize , but in such a way that the particu-
lars will not universalize and become memorable.
When we reach the writing of a naturalist like
Edwin Way Teale, we find the influence of Thoreau
acquires a new dimension. I think we can say that
no nature essayist has known the writing of
Thoreau, especially the journal, with the intimacy
that Teale does. Not only has his wife Nellie,
read him the entire text of the journal aloud, but
Teale has read the journal through twice more and
edited his favorite selections from Thoreau for
The Thoughts of Thoreau . Thoreau seems to creep
into almost every Teale volume, including even The
Strange Lives of Familiar Insects . Teale has
edited selections from both Audubon and John Muir,
and made his own anthology of a great variety of
commentators on nature, in his Green Treasury ,
but it is still to Thoreau that he returns most
frequently. A past president of this society,
Teale is surely our own expert on Thoreau the
But has this influenced his own writing? Surely,
as is proper with a Thoreauvian, he is his own man.
Still, there are resemblances. Both writers have
found ways of writing about themselves in an im-
personal way, with an outward turn of mind, and
without sentimentality or triviality, lifting the
text above the merely autobiographical. Like
Thoreau, Teale writes both travel and backyard
books. Both men have rich literary resources which
find their way into their nature essays. Both have
an inability to resist an amusing story. Both are
highly conscious literary stylists in, a type of
writing in which, in general, one too often encoun-
ters merely plodding exposition. Both men feel and
convey their interior leap of joy at some observa-
tion or perception, giving their feel for the
natural world a lyric and emotive thrust. Both
have that careful and dogged patience which enables
them to outwait the slow processes they are ob-
serving — to stay there until something happens and
to see it.
Both writers give specific descriptions, as for
example of bird song, but both add the sense of the
lift of spirit the observation has brought.
What we get in each case is what Teale has called
" that feeling ," adding, "It is an inner emotional
response that cannot be counterfeited."
While Teale 's approach to Thoreau is that of a
naturalist, Loren Eiseley comes at him from another
direction — that of a philosophical paleontologist
who finds in Thoreau the expression of some of his
own persistent concerns. Surely Eiseley has added
to the nature essay in our time a stylistic lyri-
cism, a philosophical depth, and a breadth of
vision in time that are, if not unique, at least
highly original. As an evolutionist, deeply
believing in the viability of the slow workings of
nature through vast sweeps of time, he was deeply
troubled by the speed of change that western man
has intoduced into the natural world. "We in the
western world," he writes, "have rushed eagerly to
embrace the future — and in so doing we have pro-
vided that future with a strength it has derived
from us and our endeavors. Now, stunned, puzzled
and dismayed, we try to withdraw from the embrace,
not of a necessary tomorrow, but of that future
which we have invited and of which, at last, we
have grown perceptibly afraid."
It is significant that such a writer should re-
turn to Thoreau as often as he does. Eisely sees
Thoreau in part as a futurist. It strikes him
that Thoreau saw "human civilizations as toadstools
sprung up in the night by solitary roads. When
Thoreau describes the pickerel in Walden as
"animalized water," Eisely sees this as a "moment of
strange insight," for he, from an evolutionary
rather than a transcendental point of view, agrees
In his last, posthumous essay on Thoreau, Eiseley,
perhaps reading into the Concordian a measure of his
own feeling, calls him "a spiritual wanderer through
the deserts of the modern world." Yet, as we well
know, for Thoreau there was a very vivid alternative
world around him.
It is both a literary and a philosophical concern
for Thoreau that has made Joseph Wood Krutch an-
other persistent Thoreauvian as well as a nature
essayist of some skill. A Broadway drama critic
from 1924 until 1952, Krutch spent his last years,
until his death in 1970, as a naturalist and nature
essayist in the American southwest. Brooks Atkin-
son, whose interests are remarkably similar, has
reminded us that Krutch did not read Walden until he
was thirty-seven. He says, "Since he was always his
own man, it would be unfair to imply that Thoreau 's
Walden changed his mind." But he adds that after
Krutch wrote his critical biography of Thoreau in
1948, "For the rest of Krutch' s life, Thoreau
was in his mind. Krutch quoted no other writer as
Like so many nature essayists of recent times,
Krutch despaired at some of the directions the
modern world has taken. In 1967, his opinion was
that while Thoreau' s reputation had "grown steadily
since his death," "his actual influence upon society
as a whole is very nearly nil." This was a matter
of some anguish to Krutch.
In reading a book like Krutch 's on the Grand
Canyon, one finds a simple gauge of the nature of
his apprehension of Thoreau. In the first 229
pages of text, he cites or quotes Thoreau twice.
In the remaining 47, Thoreau appears twelve times.
The first section is largely expository. The last
chapters are more probing. Krutch is expressing
his concern for the survival of the natural world.
He remarks at one point, "In each of the five or
six 'nature books' I have written there has come a
time when it was impossible not to quote a certain
sentence from Thoreau." 28 It is not the comparison
of observations that Krutch turns to. It is
Thoreau' s essayist dimension, his literary and
As a nature essayist, Krutch is far more a man of
letters than a research naturalist. He has not the
infinite patience of a Teale, nor the depth of
background knowledge. But his search beyond obser-
vation, to significances, is in the best Thoreau-
vian tradition, and he is a soldier in the camp of
I can't close without a word about Annie Dillard's
exquisite Pilgrim at Tinker Creek of 1974. 30 While
it would be easy to exaggerate Dillard's Thoreau-
vian tendencies, she is a past member of this
society and fits the pattern of the man of letters
deeply concerned with the natural world. 31 While
details of her natural observations may sometimes
be imperfect, nonetheless her inquiry into the
nature of natural life, and her attempts to recon-
cile herself with its cruelties, put the book in
the best nature essay tradition. As one might
expect, she quotes Thoreau. She also names her
goldfish Ellery Channing, refers to a large array
of nature writers, chief of whom is Teale, bores
into her subject with an eye sharpened by the need
to see beyond fact to value and meaning. And she
writes in a remarkable prose.
There is much more to say, but I must end. How-
ever, I would like to offer one final and perhaps
rash generalization. Today is not, as a whole, a
rich time for the traditional essay form. People
now write articles — by the hundreds and thousands-
-being often more concerned with how to do a thing
than why they are doing it. But the essay is alive
and well and residing a good part of its time among
nature writers. I like to think that Thoreau had a
lot to do with that. We have seen that a number of
the best of the nature essayists are Thoreauvians. 4
Surely this is no accident. Obviously there is a
fellow feeling. Beyond that, there is often an
influence, and the sturdiness and agility of
Thoreau 's prose, and the extent of his work, have
set a standard for the genre that has greatly en-
riched this aspect of our culture.
"Thoreau 's Vision of the Natural World," The
Illustrated World of Thoreau , ed. Howard Chapnick
(New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1974) , p. 171.
This is the text of the main address at the Thoreau
Society meeting of 1973.
2 Joseph Wood Krutch, in his biography, Henry
David Thoreau (New York: William Sloan Associates,
1948), p. 113, notes that "Thoreau the 'nature
writer' seems to owe less to any predecessors than
Thoreau the mystic owes to Carlyle and, directly or
indirectly, to the other radicals who were inspir-
ing all New England to Utopian experiments."
For a remarkable and informative recent appre-
ciation see Edwin Way Teale' s Springtime in Britain
(New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1970), pp. 133-
He praises Gilpin's Forest Scenery (1971) on
April 1, 1852, writing that it is "a pleasing book,
so moderate, temperate, graceful, roomy, like a
gladed wood; not condensed; with a certain religion
in its manners and respect for all the good of the
past, rare in more recent books; and it is grate-
ful to read after them. Somewhat spare indeed in
the thoughts as in the sentences. Some of the cool
wind of the copses converted into grammatical and
graceful sentences, without heat." The Journal of
Henry D. Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis
H. Allen (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), III,
370. He adds, "Gilpin's is a book in which first
there is nothing to offend, and secondly something
to attract and please." (Ill, 373).
5 Journal , VI, 59.
6 Journal , VI, 103.
7 Walden , ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1971), pp. 281.
Their editors and reviewers often do it for
them, referring to Thoreau with an almost inevitable
See Perry D. Westbrook, John Burroughs (New
York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974), pp. 60-61.
Westbrook 's account of the relationship of Thoreau
to Burroughs exaggerates Burroughs' criticisms of
Thoreau in, apparently, a curious attempt to build
Burroughs' stature in comparison.
" indoor Studies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Com-
pany, 1904) , 39.
(New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1962)
Audubon's Wildlife (New York: Viking Press,
1964) and The Wilderness World of John Muir (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954).
This volume is subtitled "A Journey Through the
World's Great Nature Writing" (New York: Dodd,
Mead and Company, 1952) .
While Teale may not have followed a regimen of
rigorous walking to record the progress of the
seasonal flowers, I myself suspect that he would
have stayed to the end of the ant war and given us
many more particulars. See Walden , pp. 228-230.
There are, of course, many great differences in
Springtime in Britain (New York: Dodd, Meand
and Company, 1970), p. 228. See also pp. 150-52.
17 Walden , p. 310.
-'-"Letter to the present writer, 25 June 1978.
The Firmament of Time (New York: Atheneum
Publishers, 1960), p. 117.
See, e.cf . , "Thoreau 1 s Vision of the Natural
World," p. 171.
21 The Night Country (New York: Charles Scrib-
ner's Sons, 1971), p. 148.
The Immense Journey (New York: Random House,
1957) , p. 20.
"Thoreau' s Unfinished Business," Natural History
87 (March 1978) , 6. Surely this is a Thoreau some-
what more existential then he really was and re-
flective of a shift from the extraordinarily pene-
trating essay Eiseley gave at the Thoreau Society
in 1973. His vision of Thoreau seems to have under-
gone a shift toward the bleak between 1973 and 1977.
Atkinson s well-known books of dramatic critic-
ism are supplemented by his editing of the Modern
Library Walden and Other Writings in 1950 and by a
late volume of his own nature essays, This Bright
Land: A Personal View (New York: Natural History
Press, 1972) .
See note 3 above.
"The Many Worlds of Joseph Wood Krutch," Satur-
day Review 53 (25 July 1970) , 17.
z '"Who Was Henry Thoreau," Saturday Review 50 (19
August 1967) , 18.
" Grand Canyon: Today and All its Yesterdays
(New York: William Morrow an<| Company, 1957) p. 234.
Offered the opportunity, as he describes it in
The Living Desert (New York: William Sloane Asso-
ciates, 1952), p. 104 ff., of making further dis-
coveries about the life of the spade foot toad,
Krutch dissipates the discussion in joking about
bating of experts. His readers are left with the
questions Krutch aroused in them.
30 (New York: Harper's Magazine Press).
3 Her literary side is brought out in poems and
essays having little or no natural reference. A
volume of poems, for example, Tickets for a Prayer
Wheel, was published by the University of Missouri
Press in 1974.
Among her many references, she calls The
Strange Lives of Familiar Insects "a book I
couldn't live without." One could more easily call
her a Tealeophile, perhaps, than a Thoreauvian.
3 Josephine Johnson's The Inland Island (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1969) is a much better
example of a nature essay in which style rather
than depth of study makes the book work. Johnson
has used the nature essay form to express feelings
about the world of the time that have little to do
with natural life itself, which she often joyless-
ly dislikes. While a New York Times review makes
the inevitable comparison with Walden , there is
little similarity, though Johnson uses the familiar
structure of the year for her text. Pilgrim , on
the other hand, dazzles with its style but has
substance as well.
Lack of space has prevented me from fully
owning up to the fact that there are others of
first rank, for instance John Muir, Rachel Carson,
and John Hay, who are not Thoreauvians, though the
latter two are in a sense natural descendents.
These drawings are reproduced from Thoreau's
Journal . If you wish to identify them, simply
look up the journal entry for the date indicated in
THOREAU'S LETTER OF AUGUST 5, 1836, TO CHARLES
WYATT RICE: A NEW TEXT Edited by George Hendrich
and Fritz Oehlschlaeger
We have found- in the Collection of Dr. Samuel
Arthur Jones at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign a fair copy of Thoreau's letter
of August 5, 1836, to Charles Wyatt Rice; the copy
is of great significance since the original has
disappeared and the two early editors who published
the letter (E. B. Hill and F. B. Sanborn) made
major and minor errors when they transcribed it,
Sanborn's mistakes being the most egregious. We
present here the fair copy version, with our
reasoning for its adoption as the preferred text of
the letter; additionally we include the following
sketch of Rice, whom previous Thoreau -editors have
identified only as Thoreau's class-mate.
Charles Wyatt Rice was a member of the Harvard
Class of 1837. Born in Brookfield, Massachusetts,
in 181- , he was proud of his laboring-class origins,
as his entry in the Class Book reveals: "My
father is a blacksmith, and to this fact I probably
owe the feelings of indignation, with which I have
so frequently heard the laboring portion of the
community scornfully spoken of. It has strongly
imbued my sentiments with radicalism, and made me
feel a deep interest in the class from which I am
sprung." Undoubtedly Rice's attitude toward labor
and his radicalism appealed to Thoreau, and their
one surviving letter indicates the two were on
cordial terms. With Henry Vose and Thoreau, Rice
participated in a conference which was part of the
1837 Harvard graduation ceremony; the conference
topic was "The Commercial Spirit of Modern Times,
Considered in Its Influence on the Political,
Moral, and Literary Character of a Nation." After
graduation, Rice went South because of his health,
first to Charleston, South Carolina, where he
taught briefly, and then to Griffin, Georgia, where
he worked as assistant editor of a literary journal,
read law, and then entered into law practice. He
married in 1841 and was the father of one son, who
entered the Confederate army and died at the age of
twenty-one. Rice himself did in 1844 of "bilious
In an undated note written on the fair copy of
Thoreau's letter to Rice, Dr. Samuel Arthur Jones
(1834-1912) , the prominent Ann Arbor, Michigan,
honeopathic physician whose avoation was Thoreau
scholarship, wrote: "This copy was procured for me
by L. P. Gould, of Owosso, Mich, (now deceased)
from some relative of Mr. Rice — the holograph beinq
treasured as a precious memento." We have been un-
able to learn anything about Rice ' s relative whom
Gould contacted or the fate of the holograph.
The Gould transcription of the letter is as
Concord, August 5th, 1836.
You say you are in the hay-field: How I envy you!
Methinks I see thee stretched at thy ease by the
side of a fragrant rick, with a mighty flagon on
one hand, a cold eel slice in the other, and most
ravenous appetite to boot. So much for haying.
Now as I cannot hay nor scratch dirt, I manage to
keep soul and body together another way*- I have
been manufacturing a kind of vessel in miniature,
not a ^A" <r<r £> A ^ *<r<'t , 'y«s , .. srs Homer has it,
but _a kind of oblong, bread-trauah.
In days of yore, 'tis said, the swimming alder
Fasioned rude, with branches lopt, and stripped of
its smooth coat,
Where fallen tree was none, and rippling streams
Forbade adventurous leap, the brawny swain did bear
Secure to farthest shore.
The book has passed away, and with the book the lay
Which in my youthful days I loved to ponder.
Of curious things it told, how wise men 3 of Gotham
In a bowl did venture out to sea,
And darkly hints their awful fate.
If men have dared the main to tempt in such frail
Why may not wash tub round, or bread-troughs square
Suffice to cross the purling wave and gain the
What, think you, do these capitals mean?
When I begin to feel bluey I just step into my hog-
trough, leave care behind, and drift along our slug-
gish stream at the mercy of the winds and waves.
The following is an extract from the log-book of
the Red Jacket, Captain Thoreau.
Set sail from the Island — the Island! how expres-
sive! — reached Thayer's after a tedious voyage,
having encountered a head wind during the whole
passage — waves running mountain high, with breakers
to the leeward however, arrived safe, and after a
thorough refit, being provided with extra cables &
a first-rate birch main-mast, weighed anchor at 3
o'clock P.M. Aug. 1st, 1836, N. S. Wind blowing N.
N.E. The breeze having increased to a gale, tack'd
ship — stationed myself at the helm and prepared for
emergencies. Just as the ship was rounding point
Dennis a squall struck her, under a cloud of canvas,
which swept the deck. The aforesaid mast went by
the board, carrying with it our only mainsail. The
vessel being left at the mercy of the waves, was
cast ashore on Nawshawtuck beach. — Natives a
harmless, inoffensive race, principally devoted to
agricultural pursuits — appeared somewhat astonish-
ed that a stranger should land so unceremoniously
on the coast - got her off at 20 minutes of 4, and
after a short and pleasant passage of 10 minutes
arrived safely in port with a valueable cargo. -
"Epistolary matter", says Lamb, "usually comprises
3 topics, news, sentiment and puns." Now as to
news I dont know the coin — the newspapers take care
of that. Puns I abhor and more especially deliber-
ate ones. Sentiment alone is immortal, the rest
are short-lived — evanescent. Now this is neither
matter-of-fact, nor pung ent , nor yet sentimental —
it is neither one thing nor the other, but a kind
of hodge-podge, put together in much the same style
that mince pies are fabled to have been made, ie,
by opening the oven door, and from the further end
of the room, casting in the various ingredients —
a little lard here, a little flour there — now a
round of beef and then a cargo of spices — helter
I should like to crawl into those holes you desc-
ribe — what a crowd of associations 'twould give
"One to once, gentlemen".
As to Indian remains the season for grubbing is
past with me, the Doctor having expressly forbidden
both digging and chopping. My health is so much
improved that I shall return to C. next term if
they will receive me. French I have certainly
neglected, Dan Homer is all the rage at present.
This from your friend and classmate,
D. H. Thoreau
P.S. It would afford me much pleasure if you would
visit our good old town this vacation, in other
words, myself . Dont fail to answer this forthwith;
tis a good thing to persevere in well doing. How
true it is that the postscript contains the most
important matter invariably.
Lucius Gould (1847-1904) , who secured this letter,
was born in Michigan and graduated in law from the
University of Michigan. He was interested in local
history and at one time was editor of the Owosso
Times . We hope he was an accurate copyist, but we
have no evidence to present on this point. We do
not know just when Dr. Jones acquired the copy from
Mr. Gould, nor do we know why Dr. Jones did not
publish the letter himself. It is most likely that
Dr. Jones's friend, the printer E. B. Hill, secured
a copy of the letter, for Dr. Jones regularly shar-
ed his "finds" with Hill, with A. W. Hosmer in Con-
cord, and with Henry Salt in England. Hill in 1917
published Thoreau 's letter to Rice in a pamphlet
Two Thoreau Letters , but his transcription of the
fair copy is not entirely accurate (we assume he
did not locate the holograph) , and he did not recog-
nize Thoreau' s poem to be a poem and presented it
as prose. The Hill text was adopted by Harding and
Bode in The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau ;
the only other text available to them was printed
by F. B. Sanborn in his 1917 biography of Thoreau,
and Sanborn was notorious for altering Thoreau' s
Sanborn knew of the letter from Hill's printed
version and from A. W. Hosmer 's Thoreau Collection.
Sanborn ' s note in The Life of Henry David Thoreau
makes it appear that the holograph was in Hosmer 's
splendid collection, but this seems unlikely. It
is not in the Hosmer Collection now in the Concord
Free Public Library, and Hosmer did not enter the
letter in the index to the Grangerized Salt biog-
raphy where he placed his Thoreau holographs. We
can find no evidence that Hosmer ever owned
Thoreau' s letter to Rice. It is more likely that
Dr. Jones provided Hosmer with a copy of the fair
copy acquired from Gould and that Sanborn consulted
that copy, which is no longer in the Hosmer Thoreau
Collection. Sanborn's transcription of the letter
varies greatly from the fair copy version in Dr.
Jones's possession, though Sanborn did recognize the
poem; in characteristic fashion Sanborn made major
changes in it, explaining: "In this singular
epistle I have ventured to restore the rhythmical
passage into what may have been its original form."
Bode reproduced Sanborn's "restored" version in
Collected Poems of Henry Thoreau .
The holograph of Thoreau' s letter to Rice may
still be found in an attic in Georgia or Michigan,
but our efforts to find it have failed. Until the
letter is found, it is our belief that the copy
secured by Gould and reproduced above is closer to
the original than versions published by Hill and
1 Henry Williams, Memorials of the Class of 1837
of Harvard University (Boston: G. H. Ellis, 1887),
p. 25. For biographical information on Rice we
have also used his obituary in Christian Register ,
September 7, 1844. The Concord Free Public Library
provided us with these obituaries, and the staff of
that library was of great help to us as we were
preparing this article.
Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau : New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), pp. 49-50.
We have reproduced the paragraphing, spelling,
and punctuation of the fair copy. We are indebted
to the Rare Book Room of the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign for permission to reproduce the
fair copy and Dr. Jones's comment.
For biographical information on Mr. Gould, we
are indebted to Mrs. Robert Harrelson of Owosso,
5 "This letter was in the collection of Alfred
Hosmer at Concord and has lately been printed by
E. B. Hill, of Mesa, Arizona." F. B. Sanborn, The
Life of Henry David Thoreau (Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917) , p. 61.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Wayne State University
ADDITIONS TO THE THOREAU BIBLIOGRAPHY
Blanding, Thomas. "Daniel Ricketson's Sketch Book.'
STUDIES IN THE AMER. RENAISSANCE: 1977 (Boston:
Twayne) , pp. 327-338. Reproduces a series of
hitherto unknown caricatures of Thoreau by his
Boudy, Francois. "Henry David Thoreau — Muhen mit
dent einfachen Leben" (Troubles with the Simple
Life) . MERKUR, 27 (1973) , 527-39. Text in
Caloia, "A View of WALDEN." L. A. MAGAZINE (Los
Angeles, Cal.), 2 (Sept. 1960), 24-25.
CONCORD JOURNAL. "Lyceum Given Thoreau Letter."
Aug. 24, 1978.
Dedmond, Francis. "'He shone O'er mortal hearts:
Ellery Channing's Poetic Tributes to Thoreau."
CONCORD SAUNTERER, 13 (Spring, 1978), 1-4. This
and the next item were, accidentally attributed
to Thomas Couser in the Summer bibliography.
. "Straight into Heaven: Another Word on
Thoreau's Final Days." CS, 13 (Summer, 1978),
Ferguson, Malcolm; Anne McGrath, and Walter
Harding. HENRY DAVID THOREAU SERVICE. Concord:
First Parish Church, July 16, 1978. Mimeograph-
ed pamphlet of three sermons on Thoreau.
Hooper, Peter. "A Leaf for Thoreau." MUSHROOM
(Waitati, N. Z.), 12 (May, 1978), 33. Poem.
Hudspeth, Robert. "A Calendar of the Letters of
Margaret Fuller." STUD. IN AMER. REN.: 1977.
pp. 49-144. Many references to Thoreau.
Kennedy, Ed. "Take a Backseat, Mr. Thoreau."
HONOLULU ADVERTISER. May 15, 1978. About an
Hawaiian imitator of Thoreau.
Kostka, Dorothy. "Freedom." DENVER POST. April
16, 1978. Applying Thoreau's ideas of the
simple life to today's living.
McDonald, John J. "A Guide to Primary Source Ma-
terials for the Study of Hawthorne ' s Old Manse
Period." STUD. IN AMER. REN.: 1977, pp. 261-
312. Many references to Thoreau.
Meyer, Michael. SEVERAL MORE LIVES TO LIVE. Re-
views: AMER. LIT., March, 1978; AMER. HIST. RE-
VIEW, April, 1978; HISTORY, March, 1978; LIBRARY
JOURNAL, Oct. 15, 1977; CHOICE, Feb. 1978.
Mott, Wesley. "Thoreau and Lowell on 'Vacation' :
THE MAINE WOODS and "A Moosehead Journal."
THOREAU JOURN. QUART., 10 (July, 1978), 14-24.
Nathan, Rhoda. "'This Delicious Solitude:
Thoreau's Metaphysics and the Journey of the
Self," TJQ, 10 (July, 1978), 3-6.
Sherwood, Mary. "The Joe Polis Property." TJQ,
10 (July, 1978) , 3-6.
Skinner, B. F. "Walden (One) and Walden Two" in
REFLECTIONS ON BEHAVIOURISM AND SOCIETY. Engle-
wood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1978. pp. 188-194.
Skinner's 1972 Thoreau Society annual meeting
address. We found it a real pleasure to read
Thoreau, Henry David. SELECTED ESSAYS. Trans.
into Chinese by Chu Chin. Taiwan: Yuen Chen,
1977. 200 pp.
— . SELECTIONS FROM THE JOURNALS. Edited by
Eliot Porter. Trans, into Chinese by Chin Shian.
Taiwan: Lin Pai, 1976. 159 pp. Illustrated
with Porter's photographs.
Walker, Charles. "A Contrast of the Religious
Thought of Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Ful-
ler." Univ. of Ga., 1959. Unpublished M. A.
Woodson, Thomas. "The Title and Text of Thoreau's
'Civil Disobedience.'" BULL. OF RESEARCH IN THE
HUMANITIES, I (Spring, 1978), 103-112.
We are indebted to the following for information
used in this bulletin. Please keep the secretary
informed of items he has missed and new items as
they appear. R. Adams, T. Blanding, W. Bottoroff,
J. Butkis, A. Butler, J. Donovan, S. Dunbar, H.
Durre, F. Fenn, M. Fenn, F. Flack, R. Fleck, G.
Hannon, G. Hasenauer, C. Hoagland, E. Johnson, K.
Kesegawa, A. Kovar, J. Laposa, N. Lehrman, Kuo-
Chien Liang, L. Lionel, M. Manning, A. McGrath,
J. Moldenhauer, M. Moller, J. Pontin, A. Seaburg,
R. Stowell, R. Thompson, J. Tobin, G. VanBuskirk,
J. Vickers, P. Williams, and E. Zeitlin. r
NOTES AND QUERIES
Deborah Simmerman's book ROCK AND SKY, listed in
the Summer bulletin, can be obtained from her at 5B
Holbrook Ct., Rockport, Mass. 01966 for $2.00 in-
Marcy S. Powell of Miami University writes to us
that most dictionaries of quotations misdate
Thoreau's journal comment about the trout in the
milk as Nov. 11, 1854. This includes Bartlett's
FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS: EVERYMAN'S DICTIONARY OF QUO-
TATIONS , Evans ' DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS , Mencken ' s
NEW DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS, and Tripp's INTER-
NATIONAL THESAURUS OF QUOTATIONS. The only one he
found that gave it correctly (Nov. 11, 1850) was
Stevenson's HOME BOOK OF QUOTATIONS. He adds,
"The moral of the story would seem to be: If you
are going to copy from other reference books, copy
from one that is right — or take the trouble to
Charles Lind of Setauket, N.Y. has recently dona-
ted a copy of Harry B. Chase's "Henry Thoreau, Sur-
veyor" from SURVEYING AND MAPPING for June, 1965 to
the Thoreau Society Archives.
W. G. Mclnnes points out to us that whereas
Thoreau in his journal for Aug. 30, 1841, says,
"My life hath been the poem I would have writ, /But
I could not both live and live to utter it," and
Bronson Alcott, in his CONCORD DAYS (1872, p. 4)
says, without acknowledgement, ,r Life's the true
poem could it be writ, /Yet who can live at once and
The Current Co. of Bristol, R.I., has for sale a
copy of the first edition of A WEEK sent by Thoreau
to Charles C. Morse of Rochester, N.Y., with text-
ual corrections in Thoreau's hand. Price: $1850.
Rev. John F. Butkis (Box 685, Kamiah, Id. 83536)
wants to know if anyone has a copy of Robert Wild's
statuette of Thoreau he would be willing to sell.
We have recently read the manuscript of Mrs.
William Delano's PENCIL FACTORY: THE MEMOIRS OF
CYNTHIA DUNBAR THOREAU, a most imaginative and
delightful work that we hope some perceptive pub-
lisher will bring out.
Former Thoreau Society president William Howarth
is working on a lengthy article on Thoreau for the
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC according to the Aug. 10, 1978
Edward Wagenknecht is working on a volume on
Thoreau in the series of "psychographs" he has
published over the years.
Ramada Inns are planning to start construction
soon on a 182-room motel directly across Route 2
from Walden Pond.
Michael West of the University of Pittsburgh has
recently been awarded an ACLS fellowship to work on
a study of paradox and wordplay in WALDEN.
Eleanor Goddard Worthen of Jamaica, Vermont, has
recently found among the papers of her late father,
Harold Goddard, a letter from Edward Emerson
(R.W.'s son) commenting on Goddard' s book STUDIES
IN NEW ENGLAND TRANSCENDENTALISM (1908), saying in
part, "Your paragraphs on that friend of my child-
hood and early youthk Henry Thoreau, are good. It
is a satisfaction to see that Lowell's essay
(quite unworthy of him, and, had he written later,
I believe he would have written quite differently)
is losing its influence, and the nobility of
Thoreau 's character, and the beauty of his thought,
when not trying to startle Mrs. Grundy, is felt
widely here and abroad." (May 13, 1908).
Raymond Adams points out to us that in a recent
issue of the INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY
IN MEDICINE (7, 1977, 329-336) there is an extended
discussion of "Grief-Related Facsimile Illness" by
S. Zisook and R. A. DeVaul which analyzes ten cases
similar to Thoreau' s illness after his brother's
According to the NEW YORK TIMES for Aug. 2, 1978,
that when New York City recently started enforcing
its new ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up
after their pets, one irate dog owner protested
that she intended to "read Thoreau to my cocker
spaniel and teach her civil disobedience."
The Royal Bank of Canada's MONTHLY LETTER for
July, 1978, after speaking briefly about Thoreau at
Walden, concludes "We cannot all be Thoreaus; but
there should be a little of the Thoreau in all of
us if we are to make the earth safe for coming
Charles Miskell has called to our attention that
there is a mineral named "Thoreaulite. " It is
Tantalum-niobium oxide tin oxide — Sn Oz. (Ta, Nb)
2O5. Can anyone tell us any more about it or how
it got its name?
The Thoreau Society recently received from Lloyd
Reep a gift of fifty dollars.
Edward Jarvis , in his manuscript "Traditions &
Reminiscences of Concord" in the Concord Free
Public Library, states that only eight Concord
youths graduated from college in the 1830 's:
Marshall Merriam C33) and J. Gardner Davis ('36)
from Yale, and William Richard and William Whiting
('33), George Moore C34), H. B. Dennis and E.
Rockwood Hoar ('35) and Thoreau ('37) from Harvard.
Of these eight, three became lawyers, two ministers,
one an editor, one a doctor, and one (Thoreau) an
An event of great importance to Thoreau scholars
is the new annual Studies in the American Renais-
sance , edited by Joel Myerson. See the biblio-
graphy in this bulletin under Blanding, Hudspeth
and McDonald. We understand equally important
articles are scheduled for later volumes.
Edwin Markham, the poet, wrote in COSMOPOLITAN
(August, 1906, p. 393) : "No greater service could
be done the public to-day than the publication of
(Thoreau 1 s) "Life Without Principle," in a magazine
of such general circulation as yours. I regard the
essay as one of the largest and truest utterances
of a man whom I rank higher than Emerson."
REPORT OF THE WALKING SOCIETY by Mary R. Fenn
The personnel of the Walking Society changes from
time to time, and in early fall we were joined by
two great grand-daughters of Ellen Sewell, the girl
Thoreau wanted to marry. It was great fun as we
walked along the shore of Fairhaven Bay and again
on the Old Carlisle Road to hear their family remi-
niscences of the fair Ellen. They showed us a da-
guerreotype of Ellen at the time she had been in
Concord, and she was perfectly charming. It was no
wonder Thoreau boys fell in love with her. If Henry
was not acceptable to Ellen's father, the young
minister of the Cohasset church was, and in 1844
Ellen and Joseph Osgood were married. They lived
their long fruitful lives in that beautiful seaside
town, raising a large family, and were at last
buried in the old town cemetery.
Naturally at the first opportunity we travelled
to Cohasset. Our first stop was the cemetery. We
like to visit cemeteries, for seeing the graves of
people we have read about always makes us realize
that these were real flesh and blood people, and
not just fanciful characters in a story. The graves
were not easy to find, but with the help of the
young superintendent and his charts, we did locate
them. This was the very cemetery which Thoreau
visited on his trip to Cape Cod, and where he saw
the gaping hole dug for the victims of the ship-
wreck of the brig St. John. He also described the
caskets being trundled to the meetinghouse where
Joseph Osgood would conduct the mass funeral ser-
vice. Joseph and Ellen Osgood's graves are under
the shadow of the huge celtic cross which memori-
alizes those who drowned in the shipwreck. The
Cohasset cemetery is a particularly beautiful and
peaceful spot, its high land jutting out into
Pleasant Bay. We strolled down to the water's edge
and for a time watched four snowy white egrets
wading in the shallow water.
Across the road from the meetinghouse is the
present Parish House. It had been the home of
Ellen and Joseph. It is a fine colonial house with
central hall, spacious rooms, and was flooded with
sunlight through its many paned windows. The
present minister, Mr. Atkinson, was most helpful,
and showed us pamphlets about the half-century
pastorate of Joseph Osgood. There was a picture of
Ellen in late life, showing a mature woman but with
traces of her early beauty. A large picture of her
husband hanging on the wall showed him to be a
kindly man with a twinkle in his eye. Mr. Atkinson
took us across to visit the church, a charming 1747
New England meetinghouse with high pulpit, box pevs,
and galleries around three sides. It was beauti-
fully kept and gave us a sense of the continuity of
many years of service. There was a case of exhibits
which included the original church book, hand writ-
ten of course and yellow with age. The old minis-
ter's robe was there, bright red too, contradicting
the notion that the early clergy wore somber colors.
A chair thought to have been Mr. Osgood's was in a
small robing room off the gallery.
We left Cohasset feeling that even though Ellen
had always remembered Henry Thoreau with affection,
and looked back with nostalgia on the months she
spent in Concord, "where we were so happy", she did
lead a very pleasant and fulfilled life in Cohasset.